Hyun-Jin Ryu is not the only member of the 2019 Los Angeles Dodgers to outperform expectations, but his career year is perhaps the most unexpected.
It was already remarkable that Ryu already overcome a possibly career-ending torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, then an elbow operation, to work his way back into the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Nobody could have predicted, though, the way Ryu has established himself as the ace of an elite Dodgers rotation and a favorite for the 2019 National League Cy Young Award.
Ryu’s ability to pitch in the Major Leagues at all right now, let alone at such a high level, was no guarantee, given that labrum tears have a much less proven track record of recovery than other significant injuries such as Tommy John surgery.
His recovery process was so difficult, in fact, that Ryu recently called it the worst moment of his life and more challenging than he believed it would be, per Bill Plunkett of the Southern California News Group:
“I thought I knew how this process worked especially because I had Tommy John surgery when I was in high school. But coming back from the shoulder surgery was definitely more than I expected or anticipated,” Ryu said through his interpreter over the weekend. “I tried to focus on my goal of coming back and pitching again. I really tried to cancel all the noise out. That definitely helped me. But to be completely honest, it wasn’t easy at all.
“The entire process was really difficult because … I’d rather be out there and be embarrassed giving up home runs and putting up a bad performance rather than being sidelined and just rehabbing by myself. So the entire process was the lowest point of my life.”
After being signed from Korea’s KBO league before the 2013 season, Ryu’s first two years for the Dodgers were good, but he was a distant third in the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
After his injury and subsequent surgery, Ryu missed all of 2015 and made one unimpressive start in 2016. He made 24 starts in 2017 but was left the team’s postseason roster and forced to watch as the Dodgers made their first World Series in nearly 30 years.
Ryu was much more effective in 2018, though he missed over two months of the season with a torn groin. His 19 starts in 2019 are already four more than last season, and Ryu has become dominant, with an MLB-best 1.76 ERA and 8.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio, to go along with a National League-leading 0.94 WHIP.
National television audiences have gotten a good look at Ryu’s excellence lately. After throwing a scoreless inning in his All-Star Game start, he allowed two runs over seven frames against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.